Gender equality


The Victorian Bar Council supports a fair, equitable, dynamic, inclusive and diverse Bar which continues to attract and retain the best talent.

Our commitment to gender equality

Achieving gender equality is important for the Bar because it is linked to improved productivity and performance, the attraction and retention of talent, enhanced organisational reputation and institutional legitimacy of the Bar and the justice system.

The Bar has made significant gains toward gender equality, however issues for women at the Bar remain.  Gender equality at the Bar requires:

  • Equitable briefing practices
  • Barristers to receive equal pay for work of equal or comparable value
  • Removal of barriers to the full and equal participation and progression of women at the Bar
  • Participation in leadership roles, regardless of gender
  • Elimination of discrimination and harassment on the basis of gender, and
  • Recognition of family and caring responsibilities.

The Bar continues to strive toward gender equality, so that all barristers are able to access and enjoy the same rewards, resources and opportunities regardless of gender.

A number of the Bar’s initiatives to promote gender equality are set out below.

 

National Model Gender Equitable Briefing Policy

The Victorian Bar actively promotes the aims of the National Model Gender Equitable Briefing Policy (Policy), launched by the Law Council of Australia (LCA) in June 2016 and formally endorsed by the Victorian Bar.

The aims of the Policy are to achieve a nationally consistent approach towards bringing about cultural and attitudinal change within the legal profession with respect to gender briefing practices, so as to maximise choices for legal practitioners and their clients, promote the full use of the independent Bar and optimise opportunities for practice development of all barristers. The Victorian Bar has also adopted the LCA’s Diversity and Equality Charter.

 

Adopt the Policy

You can be involved in these endeavours. The Policy is available for adoption by all barristers. By adopting the Policy, you can demonstrate to your colleagues at the Bar and across the wider profession your support for the aims of the Policy and, through those aims, the continued excellence of the Bar. We encourage you to adopt the Policy by completing the form at the LCA website. The resources outlined below provide more information as to how and why to adopt the Policy.

 

Guide to reporting for barristers

This Guide is for the benefit of barristers at the Victorian Bar who have adopted the National Model Gender Equitable Briefing Policy. It has been developed to assist barristers to comply with the requirements under the Policy to collect and report data to the Law Council of Australia.

Guide to reporting for barristers

 

Barrister worksheets and report templates

The Victorian Bar provides a worksheet to assist barristers in collecting data during the reporting period and compiling their report at the end of the reporting period. The worksheet covers all of the categories for which barristers are to collect data and report under the Policy.

Barrister worksheet and report templates

 

Silks' Undertaking

The Silks’ Undertaking is a pledge by Silks indicating a personal commitment to promoting equality and diversity including the Victorian Bar’s commitment to providing a workplace that is free from bullying and discriminatory behaviour and is free from sexual harassment.

The Silks’ Undertaking is here.

The names of Silks who have signed the Undertaking are here.

 

Women Barristers' Association

The Women Barristers' Association is open to all members of the Victorian Bar to join. It aims to:

  • Provide a professional and social network for women barristers
  • Promote awareness, discussion and resolution of issues that particularly affect women
  • Identify, highlight and eradicate discrimination against women in law and in the legal system, and
  • Advance equality for women across the legal profession generally.

Click here to find out more about the Women Barristers' Association.

Frequently asked questions

What is the Gender Equitable Briefing Policy?

The Gender Equitable Briefing Policy was launched by the Law Council of Australia in June 2016. The aim of the Policy is to achieve a nationally consistent approach towards bringing about cultural and attitudinal change at all levels of the legal profession with respect to gender briefing practices. Equitable briefing practices maximise choices for legal practitioners and their clients, promote the full use of the independent bar and optimise opportunities for practice development of all barristers. The Policy encourages all persons or entities who brief or select barristers to make all reasonable endeavours to brief or select women barristers with relevant seniority and expertise, experience or interest in a relevant practice area. The Policy sets short and long term targets and provides reporting obligations for briefing entities and barristers who adopt the Policy. The Policy does not require the briefing, selection or recommendation of a woman barrister merely because she is a woman. Rather, by requiring the person making the recommendation to turn their mind consciously to the question, it ensures a thorough consideration of the qualifications and experience of available barristers and so assists in promoting truly meritocratic briefing. 

Why has the Victorian Bar Council endorsed the National Gender Equitable Briefing Policy?

Released in March 2014, the National Attrition and Re-engagement Study (NARS) report noted the following experience for female barristers:

a) Female barristers reported experiencing almost every form of discrimination or type of harassment at work more often than their counterparts in private practice or in-house legal roles;

b) Female barristers were twice as likely as those in private practice or in-house roles to believe that they have experienced sexual harassment at their workplace.

c) Female barristers were also more likely than other females to report experiencing discrimination due to gender, bullying or intimidation and discrimination due to family/carer responsibilities.

d) Conscious bias experienced by women included being denied briefs because clients preferred male counsel.

The Victorian Bar Council’s endorsement of the Policy is one way in which it seeks to address the disadvantages faced by female barristers, identified in the NARS Report.

Does the Policy apply to me?

The Policy is for the benefit of the whole legal profession – men and women. It maximises choices for legal practitioners and their clients, promotes the full use of the independent bar and optimises opportunities for practice development of all barristers. Briefing entities, clients and barristers can adopt the Policy.

What are the targets in the Policy?

The Policy sets out short and long term targets which can be adjusted to reflect local conditions. The Policy says it encourages all persons or entities who brief or select barristers, by 1 July 2018:

a) to brief or select senior women barristers accounting for at least 20% of all briefs and/or 20% of the value of all brief fees paid to senior barristers;

b) to brief or select junior women barristers accounting for at least 30% of all briefs and/or 30% of the value of all brief fees paid to junior barristers.

The Policy defines a barrister as a member of any independent State or Territory Bar. A senior barrister under the Policy is a barrister of 10 or more years standing at the independent bar or who is Queen’s Counsel or Senior Counsel, and a junior barrister means all other barristers.

In 2018, the targets will be reviewed to reflect the reporting provided by Policy adoptees. It is intended that by 2020 women are briefed in at least 30 per cent of all briefs and receive at least 30% of the value of all brief fees, in accordance with international benchmarks concerning the retention and promotion of women.

What is the difference between quotas and targets?

The Policy suggests targets and not quotas. Targets are specific measurable objectives with discrete timeframes in which they are desired to be achieved. Targets are voluntary and can be tailored, monitored and adjusted according to organisation or industry conditions. Quotas on the other hand are mandatory and are viewed as circumventing selection based on merit and can overlook men in the process of achieving the quotas. For more information on quotas and targets you may wish to view an information sheet by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on targets and quotas.

How will the targets be measured?

The targets will be measured by information contained in confidential reports provided to the to the Law Council by 30 September each year by those who adopt the Policy.

What are some reasons to adopt it?

Some reasons for adopting the Policy include:

a) Assist in maximising choices for legal practitioners and their clients in their choice of barrister;

b) Be involved in the promotion of the full use of the independent bar and optimise opportunities for practice development of all barristers;

c) Take steps that involve minimising unconscious bias;

d) Increasingly law firms and government agencies are adopting the Policy and it is likely they may be seeking barristers who have adopted the Policy;

e) Increasingly clients, law firms and government agencies are required to report on the status of gender equality in their workplaces. This includes strategies and policies used to promote equality. By adopting the Policy barristers can assist their clients and law firms in meeting their gender equality requirements; and

f) Take steps that lead to diversity in representation, which in turn promotes better decision making.

I am a junior barrister, should I adopt the Policy?

The Victorian Bar encourages all barristers, whether junior or senior, to adopt the Policy. While junior barristers may well be less likely to be asked for a recommendation compared with their senior colleagues, they are nevertheless likely to be asked for a recommendation from time to time. It is important that data is collected on recommendations made at all levels of experience to measure the retention rates and ascertain any reasons for gender disparity. Furthermore, with the increasing spotlight on gender equality in the legal profession overall, it is likely that law firms, clients and government agencies may only wish to brief barristers who have themselves adopted the Policy.

How do I adopt the Policy?

You can adopt the Policy by registering yourself via this link.

How will people know I have adopted the Policy?

The public will know you have adopted the Policy as the Law Council publishes the names of those who have adopted the Policy on its webpage. You may find your name and others who have adopted the Policy here. You may also wish to note that you have adopted the Policy on your email signature so that briefing entities will know you have adopted the Policy. You can also publicise your adoption of the Policy on your profile on your floor website, Linkedin, your CV and Find a Barrister.

I have adopted the Policy, what do I need to do now?

The Policy sets out reporting requirements for briefing entities and barristers who adopt the Policy. For barristers who have adopted the Policy it encourages all recommendations made of other barristers to include at least one woman, unless there is no qualified woman.

In addition, barristers practising in Victoria should provide a confidential annual report to the Law Council by 30 September each year. A barrister’s report should address the following information, by reference to gender:

a) the number of barristers briefed as their junior or as their leader during the year;

b) the number of barristers who were briefed as junior barristers as a result of a recommendation by senior barristers (if known);

c) the number of barristers who were briefed as senior barristers as a result of a recommendation by junior barristers (if known); and

d) the number of barristers recommended to briefing entities in new matters.

Barristers’ clerks should work with barristers who adopt the Policy to develop practices and protocols to assist with their reporting obligations. The Policy defines a barrister as a member of any independent State or Territory Bar. A senior barrister under the Policy is a barrister of 10 or more years standing at the independent bar or who is Queen’s Counsel or Senior Counsel, and a junior barrister means all other barristers.

How do I collect the data required under the Policy?

The Victorian Bar provides a worksheet to collect data to make it easier for barristers to then compile their report at the end of the reporting period. The worksheet can be found here. The worksheet covers all of the categories on which barristers are to report under the Policy. At the end of the reporting year, all you will need to do is to report the total number for each of the categories covered by the Policy by utilising the online reporting portal on the Law Council website.